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Despite conduct concerns, Oklahoma State University students are rarely expelled

BY SILAS ALLEN Modified: February 24, 2013 at 1:15 am •  Published: February 24, 2013
/articleid/3758521/1/pictures/1961295">Photo - Nathan Cochran Former OSU student accused of a series of sexual assaults against male victims
Nathan Cochran Former OSU student accused of a series of sexual assaults against male victims

That difference makes expulsion an extreme and rare step, Shutt said.

Temporary suspensions are more common in cases where a student is found to have violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy.

But even temporary suspensions aren’t universal.

Aside from the charges against Cochran, the university brought five sexual misconduct charges against students in 2011 and 2012. In three of those cases, the student was found not responsible for the charges. Two of the cases resulted in the student being suspended for a year.

In the remaining three cases, the student received other punishment, including being ordered to undergo sexual harassment training and write a reflective paper.

The university’s student conduct policy includes a strong presumption in favor of suspension or expulsion when a student commits violent acts that result in injury or death. But in 2011 and 2012, none of the 28 conduct hearings the university held for violations of the university’s policy against violence resulted in the student being suspended.

Serious actions

Daniel Swinton, the former director of student conduct and academic integrity at Vanderbilt University, said universities typically only expel students when they find them responsible for serious actions like sexual misconduct, or if that student commits a series of infractions.

“It’s not particularly common,” he said. “Every school does it, but it’s not typically a regular occurrence.”

During Swinton’s time at Vanderbilt, the university considered the option of expelling students a few times, he said.

In most cases, those students were accused of serious actions such as drug distribution or rape, he said. In other cases, the student had been found responsible for a series of disciplinary problems that, taken individually, might not have warranted as severe a punishment.

In many cases, Swinton said, university officials suspend a student in the hopes of keeping the student off campus until any victims have graduated. But that practice doesn’t prevent that student from returning after the suspension period is up and continuing to victimize other students.

Although he wouldn’t speak to OSU’s issue specifically, Swinton, now an education consultant, said cases such as Cochran’s — situations where a student is found responsible for several counts of sexual misconduct — would generally be grounds for the university to expel that student permanently.

“I think expulsion is probably warranted even with one incident,” he said. “I’m not sure what it would take to get expelled if they’re not expelled for that,” he said.

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